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RFID Predicts Eruptions for Nicaraguan Volcano

The system, using Libelium wireless sensors and GE software, operated for just a few weeks, but provided exploration company Qwake with cloud-based data regarding conditions inside the Masaya volcano's active crater.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 08, 2017

Predicting volcanic eruptions is an inexact science that, until now, has often required the presence of volcanologists in the inhospitable and sometimes deadly environment of a hot crater. But Qwake tested a system last summer in Nicaragua's active Masaya volcano that enables the global exploration company to collect real-time information about the conditions within a volcano using ruggedized sensors, and managed that data in the cloud. Libelium Technology provided and helped install the network of sensors and the gateway to collect the information.

Masaya, one of the most active volcanoes in Latin America, has a lava lake in its Santiago Crater. The lake is located approximately 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) south of Nicaragua's capitol city Managua.

The system allowed Qwake to collect real-time information about the conditions inside the Masaya volcano.
The exploration company launched a project to bring the Masaya Volcano online after being contacted by a Nicaraguan neighbor of the peak. It had been dormant for years, the neighbor had said, but recently had begun emitting a large amount of sulfur dioxide gas—and, of more concern, a large lava lake had developed that could spew fire and lava for many kilometers. "We thought we'd digitize the volcano," says Sam Cossman, Qwake's CEO and founder, and a U.S.-based technology explorer for the project.

Qwake's Sam Cossman
Qwake intended to install technology to begin the process of creating what could be a digital early-warning system that could be made available to scientists or the public, in order to help predict an eruption before it could injure individuals or property. Multiple villages in Nicaragua are vulnerable to the Masaya volcano.

"Qwake does not see itself as an end-all solution," Cossman says. "Our goal is to inspire other scientists and engineers to use technology for further research."

Last summer, Qwake teamed up with the Nicaraguan government, as well as Libelium and General Electric, to test a solution to track volcano activity online. The group captured data from the system for about two weeks while the hardware was still operable, to determine how well and how long the sensors could sustain the harsh environment and provide useful information that could then be viewed in real time or be collected for historic purposes.

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